But perhaps the most overwhelming barrier for bike commuters of color is a challenge that knows no culture. “Improved infrastructure is key to building a bicycle constituency,” said Tony Garcia, a Cuban-American urban planner in Miami, FL. “In the end, what we want is a complete bicycle network, with an emphasis on protected facilities and neighborhood routes, that touches all demographics and gets everyone on their bikes.”
After all, the benefits of biking are beginning to resonate even in communities that historically have been wary of active transportation. Eight years ago, local officials balked at the installation of bike lanes on Division Avenue, an iconic street for the Puerto Rican community in Chicago. “I remember the local alderman saying, ‘We don’t want this bike lane in our community,’” Hernandez said. “And, for him, it was a matter of protecting the integrity and culture of that community.” But, less than a decade later, that same street has new pedestrian crossings and bicycle facilities, connecting residents to local parks and area jobs. What made the difference? “We’ve been able to do organizing work and, in reaching out, instead of talking about bicycling, we’re talking about health,” Hernandez said. “We’re talking about access to green space and other city amenities, and bicycling is the vehicle to get us there.”
Local citizens are emerging as grassroots leaders too, creating social networks that are fostering a sense of solidarity and elevating the visibility of all cyclists. In Los Angeles, Yolanda Davis-Overstreet created Ride in Living Color, a film effort that’s gathered the diverse stories of more than 60 cyclists of color. Across the nation, social rides like the Black Kids on Bikes ride in East LA and the People of Kolor Everyday Riding (P.O.K.E.R). Bicycle Familia Ride in San Francisco are gaining momentum – and reclaiming the streets from long-held stereotypes.
“People think of San Francisco bicycling and they think about bike hipsters and skinny jeans,” Takayama said. But show up at the P.O.K.E.R. ride, she suggests, and you’ll see the real face of Bay Area bicyclists – African-American youth on tricked-out “scraper” bikes, a Latino couple carrying their new puppies in their front baskets, a fixed-gear-riding Filipino musician and his bicycling son. “We’re out there,” Takayama said. “There’s a lot of diversity in terms of who’s using a bicycle to get around.”
The way the movement is going, Hernandez, for one, thinks cyclists like Takayama and Taylor, Barry and Camargo, won’t be in the minority for long, especially in the major urban centers. “The idea that biking is a white thing or poor thing doesn’t exist as much in the youth who are growing up in diverse, multicultural cities,” Hernandez adds. That gives Taylor cause for optimism.
After all, he said, the bicycle movement is still in its infant stages. Even the most bicycle-friendly cities, such as Portland or San Francisco, have barely breached five percent mode share. “We have not had a movement yet,” Taylor said with a chuckle. “My new message in these communities of color is: ‘Guess what? You got here just in time.’ Rather than the sense that anyone has been left behind, it’s a much more positive, invigorating message. We have the potential for a great movement – it just hasn’t happened yet.”
Carolyn Szczepanski is the communications director for the League of American Bicyclists, which represents the interests of 25,000 individual cyclists and 700 affiliated organizations in the United States.